Sister Veronica Casey is looking for people with the faith to listen to and help some of the country’s most rejected people – the 9500 men and women serving time in Aotearoa New Zealand’s 18 prisons.
Mosgiel-based Sr Veronica is the Catholic Senior Prison Chaplain. She is always looking for suitable people for the volunteer and paid prison chaplaincy roles she supports, but often can’t find enough of them.
To help her, the Catholic bishops have published a new booklet on prison ministry as part of a campaign to tempt people in all six Catholic dioceses to consider becoming involved in prison ministry.
The booklet -- Prison Ministry: what is it and how do I get involved? – in Māori Tiaparani Whareherehere: He aha tēnei mea, ā,he pēhea te hono atu? – is available in printed copies in most Catholic parishes as well as online. It has adjacent Māori and English text and describes prison ministry and how to do it.
“Prison ministry is really a vocation, but it needs preparation,” says Sr Veronica. “The issues of poverty, ethnic minorities, and mental illness are key characteristics of prison populations everywhere. Prison chaplaincy is a core corporal work of mercy.”
The prison chaplaincy service is a Government-funded ecumenical service. The Catholic Church has a sub-contract with Prison Chaplaincy New Zealand to provide Catholic chaplaincy.
“Pope Francis has a deep concern for people in prison,” says Sr Veronica, who met the Pope at an international prison chaplaincy conference in the Vatican last year. “He urged for changes in the outlook and approach in treating people in prison, offering help and adequate resources to live a dignified life, not discarding them. It’s a hugely important role. People in prison tend to come from disadvantaged backgrounds and they have no hope in their lives. Prison ministry is about bringing hope and meaning to an otherwise hopeless situation. You can be the first person who’s ever listened to them.”
Prison chaplains are paid and provide religious and spiritual services. Training in theology and pastoral care is available through the Church’s Te Kupenga-Catholic Leadership Institute. Anyone considering the role is advised to do these studies. Volunteers can be involved in in a variety of ways such as pastoral visiting, Bible study and Sunday service.
"This is a ministry for the whole church and parishes can be involved in prayer ministry, support for the prison chaplains and volunteers and for supporting people on release from prison."
Sr Veronica is keen to talk with anyone who reads the new booklet and believes they might have a calling to the role. She can be contacted via email at vcasey@nzcbc,org.nz
Download a PDF copy of the booklet here.
Picture above from left: Falefou Sio (newly commissioned Rimutaka and Arohata prisons Catholic Prison Chaplain) at his October commissioning ceremony, with Cardinal John Dew (Archbishop of Wellington), Sr Veronica Casey, PBVM (Senior Catholic Prison Chaplain), and Christoph Zintl (Ecumenical Chaplain Rimutaka Prison). Below: The Prison Ministry booklet